The professional photographers and the editors at the Professional Development Seminar during the Seattle SNAG Conference gave this trend a very mixed answer, "yes" and "no."
A color background extends the canvas with which to create an expression. The color of the background can set up the context and communicate a broader message in the photograph. Let me repeat that with emphasis, a color background is sending a message whether the subject is food, cars, or artwork.
In Christopher Conrad's photo above we read the cool blues and purples as mouth-watering and refreshing. The work and the background are both sending a tightly coordinated and integrated message. To the proper audience, the photo can be fantastic!
In the Metalsmith Magazine cover to the left, the icy blue creates a dramatic color background. This color blue is crystalline like the brooch. They echo each other in a different way. The purpose of the cover is to be eye-catching on the newsstand. The colored background is editorial, and opinionated, definitely not neutral....but the question remains whether this particular color background is sending the message that the maker wants to send about their work.
While an editor may prefer an unusual color background for the cover of a magazine, the same answer will not be appropriate for a juried show, an Etsy listing, or gallery advertising. It can be a total turn-off to a judge or jury, and still a great choice for only one particular situation.
Let's look at a few examples with color backgrounds ........
People often associate color with emotions. If you want people to think your work is girlie or lighthearted, think pink, or pastel as in the photo to the right from Hilary Pfeiffer's Etsy shop.
Red is emotionally charged and often represents seduction, anger, or power. Think Ferrari red, but then... it really isn't thinking at all. Red is emotional. Red is often used in restaurants from McDonald's, to high-end exclusive eating establishments because colors in the warm color family mildly excite the metabolism.
Blue can be a calm emotionally restorative color as in the baby blue to steel blue range, whereas, darker navy blue is business, conservative, or elegant as in the photo to the right with a classic sensibility by Doug Yaple.
These brown backgrounds from Christopher Conrad's food photography work perfectly. The background says chocolate. Notice how the soft lighting even gives a halo around the glass on the left further focusing the eye on the object.
In contrast, the next photo on the left shows an ineffective brown background. The texture is distracting and fails to accentuate the object. The chocolate brown color has nothing to do with the jewelry. (I obscured the actual pendant to protect the identity.) Do you think this background feels attractive, looks professional, or enhances the work? The brown texture reminds me of dirt, mud, painted sandpaper, or sh*t. This is an example of how a poorly chosen color background diminishes the effectiveness of the photo. A standard graduated grey background would have served better.
In David Huang's photo to the left, the graduated background color resonates perfectly with the top lighting and the colors of the sterling silver vessel and the root/fibrous forms.
What happens when the background and the object are not working in concert? The results will be confused....and the viewers are left wondering why, why, why.
Choose carefully or experiment with variations. Know why you have selected a color background whether green, blue, teal, or red.
What is the purpose? What is the artist/maker trying to say? Ask your friends for critique. The risk is that photos are rejected from books, magazines, exhibitions, or juried opportunities just because of a poor-quality photo.
What works for one person’s work, one cover or postcard may not work for another situation, artwork, or artist's style of work.
Are you wondering what your color background says.....?
This post was updated on February 4, 2022, to provide current links.